Faculty Profile: Beth Gordon July 9, 2009
The walls, shelves, and cabinets in Beth Gordon’s office are covered with a multitude of photographs.
"Pictures are very important. I think that it tells others about us,” said Gordon, who is a member of the nursing department at Calvin. “We need to know people visually as well as audibly. Pictures offer students and others glimpses of who we are. They help tell our story.”
Displayed among pictures of Gordon’s professional life are pictures of her family.
Singing the word
Gordon was born in the Upper Peninsula in a tiny, little town called Calumet. Her father worked for “Ma Bell,” the Michigan telephone company, and her family moved all over the state during her youth. She said that she can never remember a time not going to church and that she loved her childhood because she learned to sing scripture, rather than just read it.
"We would go to church on Sunday, eat lunch and then gather around the piano,” said Gordon. “My mother would play and my brother, sister, and I would sing our own version of ‘This is the day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it’ … So I often, with my students, will sing scripture now,” said Gordon.
Calvin nursing professor Judith Baker, once Gordon’s student, recalled being impressed by Gordon’s profound spirituality:
"She is just someone who loves the Lord and wants everyone to know it,” Baker said. “The devotions that she shared—and it wasn’t just devotions—her faith was always carried through in various things that she would say, and not artificially, just very, very spontaneously. That is so much a part of her,” said Baker.
Gordon says that in order to understand where she gets her strength, she goes back to her roots: “I just feel so blessed, starting with a wonderful family, my mom, dad, grandma, brother and sister. I’ve been a part of a faith community wherever I have been.” Gordon said that her mother, now 98 years old, has been a big source of encouragement. “Not just to me, but to her other children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and the people with whom she lives over at Raybrook.”
"I suspect Beth learned much of her role from her mother because her mother is a servant,” said Baker. “And she is still to this day living her life in a very servant-like way, and Beth follows her.”
"My husband is also a wonderful, continual source of encouragement to me,” said Gordon, “not only as a husband, but as a pastor, as my best friend. He always says to me: ‘You can do it.’” Gordon met her husband, Don, after she finished graduate school. She took a job as a camp nurse and he was an associate pastor and director of the camp. They still enjoy hiking, canoeing and being outside. They have four children, 11 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.
Baker calls Gordon a really enjoyable person to have around the office. She is always cheerful, but also a hard worker: “She keeps us on track when we are wandering off track in faculty meetings,” said Baker. “She is the one who will say: ‘We need to get this done.’”
Gordon, who earned her BSN from Michigan State University in 1966, has been a part of the Calvin nursing program since the days of the joint Calvin-Hope College nursing program in the early 1980s, and she has helped the program to grow.
In 2002, Calvin began its own nursing program, designed by its faculty to be a community-based curriculum. Gordon is the neighborhood coordinator for the student nurses working in the Baxter-Madison community, one of three Grand Rapids neighborhoods with which the Calvin nursing program has partnered.
The neighborhoods are where Calvin nursing students complete their practicums: holding blood-pressure and blood-sugar screenings, teaching nutrition, hygiene and other health-related topics to students and seniors, working with community nurses and health workers and doing door-to-door health screenings.
Gordon said that one of the major problems the Baxter-Madison community has faced is children having high blood lead levels due to the dust which contains high levels of lead from deteriorating lead-based paint in homes built prior to 1978.
"Lead poisoning can cause permanent damage and result in learning disabilities, behavior problems, speech disorders, and hyperactivity,” said Gordon.
Students have partnered with the local initiative Get The Lead Out to educate residents and paint retailers on how to eliminate the lead from people’s homes and diets. “If the child has enough of vitamin C, calcium, and iron in their body, the body won’t absorb as much of the lead,” said Gordon.
A humbling and moving community nursing experience for her students, according to Gordon, is when they offer blood-pressure screenings, feet washing and nail polishing to some of the homeless in Grand Rapids. “Christ said: ‘I’ve washed your feet—then shouldn’t you?” said Gordon.
The parish approach
In addition to teaching regular classes in community health nursing, Gordon is involved in the parish nurse program. The goal of the parish nurse program is to prepare registered nurses to meet the health needs of a faith community by serving church congregations. Gordon said that because most people spend more time in their churches than in hospitals, the parish nurse can have a big impact on the health of the church. Since initiating the program at Calvin in 2003, she has seen God work through the parish nurses to help congregation members enhance their health body, mind and sprit.
Whether in the neighborhood or in teaching the parish nurse course, Gordon tries to share a servant attitude. She carries her servant outlook over into her relationship with the nursing faculty as well, said Baker: “Whenever there is something going on in someone’s life, there is always a note or a card from Beth. She serves the department in many different ways. She is quick to volunteer for things that other people might not want to do.”
Gordon maintains that she gets her strength from the people, including her nursing colleagues, in her life and God’s word. “It is a wonderfully blessed life,” she remarked.
~by Matt Decker, communications and marketing